Somebody Do Something: Defining “Religion”, Part 3

Acts, Actions, and Atheism

(Part one can be found here. Part two here.)

As noted earlier in this essay, objections to being “religious” or having a “religion” is predicated upon possessing a particular attribute (hair) or engaging in a particular behavior (stamp collecting). Thus the argument seems to come down to the following argument:

  1. If A then attribute X or action Y.
  2. Attribute X and action Y are negated by assertion.
  3. Therefore, not-A.

The reason why such an argument is fallacious is that the attributes and actions are arbitrarily asserted, such as demonstrated in the use of Webster’s definition. The atheist would say, and might assert it sincerely, “I don’t do those things, so I must not be that.” But that is why there are multiple definitions of words, because no one definition can effectively make the word understandable in every context. Thus the atheist stopping the definition at the former and planting his heels is acting irrationally.

We see this particular behavior constantly, and often unreflectively, in publications by major atheist organizations. Take the organization Atheist Alliance International (AAI), which, on its “about” page identifies itself as “…a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1991…committed to educating its members and the public about atheism, secular issues, and supporting atheists around the world…”

Now, let us put a pin in that thought, and go over to this post on their blog titled, “Is atheism a religion?” The post begins,

“‘Theism’ means ‘belief in a gods or gods’. Believers usually sign up to the values and principles of a godly belief system: it’s an ideology. Theistic ideologies are commonly known as faiths or religions. Many ideologies have the suffix ‘ism’; for example, liberalism, socialism, and communism but, in the case of ‘atheism’, the ‘ism’ ending has merely been inherited from its root: ‘theism’. The prefix ‘a’ turns the meaning around to a negative, that is ‘not a belief in a god’, so ‘atheism’ is as far from a faith or religion as it’s possible to get.

Wow, that’s a lot of mind-bending and word-twisting to present a thesis.

First, let’s pay proper due to the fact that the author of the post seems to go to the dictionary to get a definition for “theism”. However, to be consistent, in order to make his argument logical, he would need to go to a similar source and get the definition for “atheism” rather than just make one up that merely appeals to his/her preferences. Moreover, the explanation and application regarding the use of the alpha-privative in somewhat dishonest, while it does serve as a negator, it doesn’t remove the ideological aspect of the term. So with the discussion of the suffix “-ism”, it’s not that it’s “merely been inherited,” rather it serves to reenforce its reality as a linguistic signal for a pre-packaged, self-contained ideology. 

Now, just keep in mind that the purpose of AAI is to, “…educate members and the public about atheism…”

“Atheism is not a belief system so that should end this article right here.

Now, if you go to the original post, there’s a marker in that statement that takes one to the only footnote and external link in the entire article, to an article titled “What is atheism?”, which states,

“There is nothing you have to believe to be an atheist. Not believing in any god is the only qualification required. Beyond that, an atheist can believe anything at all.

Alright, wait. Notice the contradiction in that quotation.

There is nothing you have to believe to be an atheist,” is an absolute statement. 

Not believing in any god is the only qualification required,” is an absolute statement.

Now, the question is, why is this a contradiction? 

Let’s think through this. If there is no required belief to be an atheist, why is it required that one  believe that they have no belief? You have to believe that you do, in fact, have no belief, which is itself a belief, because one would have to believe it—that they do, in fact, have “no belief”—in order to proclaim that they have “no belief”.

If we couple that with the additionally contradicting statement that, “an atheist can believe anything at all,” then I could be an atheist all while believing in Jesus Christ as the only God Incarnate. But we have to assume that atheists believe that they are being logically consistent, which seems to be giving them too much credit. But let’s allow it for now, because—going back to the previous post—the people at AAI provide a list of requirements drawn up by the United States Internal Revenue Service to designate, for the purposes of taxation, what is or is not a religion. You can go to the post for the full list but I want to hit on just a few here that are relevant to the current discussion, and the author lines up certain matching qualifications in brackets ([ ]).

  1. Distinct legal existence. [Some atheist groups are legal entities.]

  2. Recognized creeds and for of worship. [No creed or form of worship].

Now, it’s worth noting here, given what I’ve just written before this, that they’ve already refuted this claim themselves by requiring a belief in ‘no belief’.

  1. Formal code of doctrine and discipline. [No doctrine.]

The creedal proclamation that they’ve already established assumes a doctrine, plus they’ve admitted that they’re an educational organization, which assumes a body of doctrine that is to be taught.

  1. Literature of its own. [No literature reserved for one group.]

And yet this is coming off the site of one particular atheist group and is not shared with any other that I can find.

Now, also keep in mind that AAI has admitted to being a 501(c)(3) organization, which includes activities which are, “charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary…” etc. so it has legally, for the purposes of taxation at least, put itself inside the category that includes religions.

The author of the post goes on to say,

“The problem is, these are superficial similarities and if they make atheism a religion, they make political parties and tennis clubs religions too. That is obviously absurd.

Well, we would have to ask, make atheism a religion in what sense? Well, since you’re quoting from the US tax code, we would have to say for tax purposes. So, then why not completely reject the “superficial similarities” and the tax exemptions that come along with them?

Stay tuned for part 4

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